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Hackney Gazette nature columnist Will McCallum: My month in the Antarctic on Greenpeace oceans expedition

PUBLISHED: 11:26 06 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:13 06 March 2018

Greenpeace crew in an inflatable visit Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay (home of a Gentoo penguin colony), Antarctic Peninsula.  Picture: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Greenpeace crew in an inflatable visit Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay (home of a Gentoo penguin colony), Antarctic Peninsula. Picture: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace

Regular readers will know him as the Gazette’s keenly observant nature columnist – but Will McCallum is also head of oceans campaigns at Greenpeace. In a special edition of NatureWatch, he reports from the Arctic Sunrise in Antarctica, where he’s been on an expedition for the last month.

Gentoo penguins near Discovery Bay in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Picture: Daniel Beltra/GreenpeaceGentoo penguins near Discovery Bay in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Picture: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

After four weeks at sea in the Antarctic Ocean, I’m back on dry land.

Reports of the weather in London have been mildly terrifying, and I’ve seen organisations like the RSPB giving out advice on how to help keep your garden birds alive and healthy through the Beast of the East.

It is strange to have travelled across the world to a frozen continent, and have stayed warmer than my friends and family back at home in Hackney and Islington.

We’ve been down here campaigning to create the world’s largest protected area, an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary that would cover 1.8million square kilometres and put this largely untouched wilderness off limits to industry.

Will McCallum in the Antarctic Peninsula.  Greenpeace is conducting scientific research and documenting the Antarctic's unique wildlife to strengthen the proposal to create the largest protected area on the planet - an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. Picture: Daniel Beltra/GreenpeaceWill McCallum in the Antarctic Peninsula. Greenpeace is conducting scientific research and documenting the Antarctic's unique wildlife to strengthen the proposal to create the largest protected area on the planet - an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. Picture: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

The experience has been fascinating.

After crossing the Drake Passage with five-metre waves, confining many onboard to their cabins, we arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula.

The first observation, and one that remained with us throughout the following weeks, was the absolute abundance of wildlife everywhere.

Whale fins and flukes surrounded our ship as we proceeded slowly south. Fix your gaze on any stretch of water around and you were guaranteed to see penguins porpoising, or a petrel swooping down, or a whale dawdling past.

The Arctic Sunrise in Charlotte Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Picture: Christian Aslund/GreenpeaceThe Arctic Sunrise in Charlotte Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Picture: Christian Aslund/Greenpeace

The wildlife down here depends almost exclusively on krill – tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans that are also the target of a fishing industry keen to expand its operations.

Our campaign to create a sanctuary in these waters is about protecting them while they are still in this state – wildlife was so plentiful that we even had to abort some beach landings due to finding so many seals and penguins ashore that we couldn’t risk disturbing them (also, no one wants to be bitten by a fur seal).

To us city-dwellers, grown used to more prosaic experiences in nature, such wilderness – totally unconcerned with us humans – was overwhelming.

I’m sure I will readjust quickly to Hackney and Islington’s charms, but as we draw into port now after a successful expedition it is time to reflect on how incredible nature is when left to its own devices, free from human interference.

The Arctic Sunrise in Charlotte Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Picture: Christian Aslund/GreenpeaceThe Arctic Sunrise in Charlotte Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Picture: Christian Aslund/Greenpeace

• Will returns for a more local edition of NatureWatch in a fortnight.

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